As Serbia starts EU negotiations this month, officials are taking steps to reform the healthcare system so it meets Union standards.
By Bojana Milovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 10/01/14
The Serbian healthcare system is in need of major reform before the country joins the EU. [AFP]
Serbia is taking steps to improve its troubled healthcare system now that it is starting negotiations with the European Union.
The annual Euro Health Consumer Index, which is commissioned by the European Council, ranked Serbia's healthcare system as the worst of 35 countries for the second consecutive year.
The 2013 index ranks European healthcare systems on 48 indicators, covering six areas that are essential to the health consumer: patients' rights and information, accessibility of treatment (waiting times), medical outcomes, range and reach of services provided and pharmaceuticals. The index has introduced prevention as a new area, with eight indicators.
The report is compiled from a combination of public statistics, patient polls and independent research conducted by the Swedish research company Health Consumer Powerhouse Ltd.
Antiquated equipment and a lack of medical experts, as well as the poor condition of the health infrastructure itself, are only some of the problems in Serbia.
"We are working hard to improve the situation, but we are encountering numerous problems," Health Minister Slavica Đukić-Dejanović said.
She said major changes are expected next year regarding patient waiting lists. An electronic information system that will provide up-to-date data is being rapidly developed.
The first centralised acquisition of medical supplies for hospitals in Serbia is also under way, a procedure that could save the state up to 25 million euros. The new procedure will be under the supervision of the health ministry, reducing the opportunity for corruption.
Officials said that in order to reach European standards, Serbia needs to have more modern medical equipment and instruments in hospitals, and more medical residents and specialists, especially radiologists, cardiologists and oncologists.
"We need to have better organisation in our healthcare system. We have to use our sources and our knowledge in the most productive way," Djukić-Dejanović said.
Many patients agree the changes are needed. Milanka Stakić, 63, has diabetes and is often faced with the obstacles of the Serbian healthcare system.
"I often have to undergo various blood tests and check the overall condition of my body, due to my chronic disease," Stakić told SETimes. "Some of those tests are not standard, so the public institutions do not have the required reagents, and there is a long waiting period. When you need such a test, you don't have the time to wait. You go to a private practice and pay a lot of money to have it done."
EU accession has helped countries in the region improve their healthcare systems. Before it joined the EU last year, Croatia implemented several changes to its healthcare sector. Vesna Rems Dobrin, a senior adviser at the Croatian Ministry of Health, said a number of preventive measures were initiated.
"The Institute for Health Insurance for the first time introduced drugs for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, and the ministry carried out a number of activities that encourage healthy lifestyles," Rems Dobrin told SETimes.
Web-based tools were introduced in all hospitals to reduce waiting lists for specialist examinations, diagnostic therapeutic procedures, surgeries and check-ups. A large number of cutting-edge medical devices were purchased for hospitals, and the number of services that are electronically monitored increased from 16 to more than 100.
"We started a reform of the health system, which included the rehabilitation of health facilities, reorganisation of hospitals, further reorganisation of the emergency medical services and unified procurement. The aim of all these measures is better organisation of the system and increased access to health care," Rems Dobrin told SETimes.
Correspondent Kruno Kartus in Osijek contributed to this report.
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